Jenna Lavin – In Her Own Words
May 17, 2017
Jenna Lavin has choreographed over a dozen ballets for the BAE Student Company. Jenna shares with us, in her own words, what inspires her work and how she approaches the choreographic process.
My name is Jenna Lavin and I have been on the faculty of the Pre-Professional Division at Ballet Academy East for almost 10 years. I currently teach levels 1, 2 (boys), 3, 4, 5, 7 and 9.
Darla Hoover asked me several years ago if I had ever choreographed. I replied that I hadn’t, and she urged me to try. I had always been very interested in choreography, and having spent 18 years as a professional dancer, I certainly had been a part of the creative process several times. I dove in to this challenge, quite excited by it, and got very lucky in that I quickly found a great piece of music, Mozart’s Rondo alla Turca. I knew this piece would be age-appropriate for the students and easy for them to count, which is very important.
The kids are my inspiration for ALL my ballets and of course the music must talk to me. I can usually listen to a piece of music a couple of times and tell if it will work for what I have in mind. When I know what level I will be choreographing for, I immediately start thinking about what kind of ballet will challenge the kids and help them grow. I listen to the music about a million times before rehearsals begin. The kids are always my first priority. I want my choreography to push them and I want to make the performances a positive experience for them. They work so hard for this all year!
I have a definite outline before rehearsals even begin. I find that in working with kids it is best if they are not standing around waiting for you to make a decision regarding steps or formations. It’s best to come in very prepared and just get to work right away. This leaves more time at the end for cleaning the ballet and also getting in any artistic goal you have in mind for them.
It’s hard for me to compare my ballets to each other. Each one is close to my heart and was done with great care. My new ballet for these performances is different from my past ballets in that it only has 10 dancers in it. Several of my ballets for BAE have had anywhere from 18-26 dancers in them. I have enjoyed choreographing on a smaller group immensely. Also, there is no principal dancer or central figure in this new ballet. It is an ensemble piece. It’s called Bouncing the Bow, which is a musical term referring to the quality of the music (staccato).
My other two ballets on the program are Calling All Workers, originally choreographed in 2008 and A Little Mozart, originally choreographed in 2010. I love both of these ballets and am thrilled that the BAE Student Company is bringing them back to life. Calling All Workers was done originally with one boy, but now we are fortunate enough to have two boys in the cast. A Little Mozart was done originally featuring a very young Alexandros Pappajohn and Marisa Trapani, and I’m excited to see the new cast bring their talents to this ballet.
Choreographing has been a wonderful experience for me; it sort of gives me the same feeling that I had as a dancer. If I were to give one piece of advice to students who wish to choreograph, it would be to learn as much as possible about music. It is your first stepping stone in creating a ballet. Once you find that right piece of music, listen to it forwards, backwards and sideways before even one step is thought about! If you are able to express the feeling and mood of the music, your ballet could very well have a lasting effect on both the dancers and the audience.